Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Lots O' Blood and Bad Teeth
I've never been exactly sure about Quentin Tarantino. I remember squirming through Reservoir Dogs and thinking it brilliant but uncomfortable to watch--not a film I care to revisit; and then Pulp Fiction exploded onto the film world, similarly graphic and violent, but this time with a larger dollop of dark humor. Pulp Fiction hit the screens at about the same moment as I was beginning to pay closer attention to movies, and so it holds a special spot for me. Tarantino's scripts for both these films were amazing, endlessly quotable, and his style mashed unexpected things together, like humor and violence or using oldies soundtracks in the present day.
But where Reservoir Dogs seemed a pure nugget of that style, each successive film has seemed to me more and more self-conscious in its effort to recapture that signature style to the point of self-parody and beyond until even the self-parody becomes a stylistic element. This doesn't need to be a negative thing, but as I say it leaves me unsure.
With the Kill Bill duo he seemed to look back unashamedly at his favorite childhood film genres and consciously add a new entry to their numbers. And again the style is very backward-looking, a present-day story told with a '70s style. But his results are always engaging and entertaining.
His last couple films are kind of in their own history-revisited pigeonhole. 2009's Inglourious Basterds glories in a fantastic re-imagining of historical events, with the entire Nazi leadership corralled into a movie theatre where they are incinerated amid satanic laughter and a swell of '70s chicka-wocka guitar riffs. Now we have (I'm a couple months late to the party, I know) another in this same righting-history's-wrongs-in-a-frenzy-of-retributive-violence genre: Django Unchained.
Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave in pre-Civil-War Texas who is enlisted by the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to help bring in the men Dr. Schultz is after. Dr. Schultz has never seen the men, while Django has and can identify them; and in exchange for his help Django is given his freedom. The duo turn out to be so good at bounty-hunting that they form a partnership and quickly amass a fortune. This fortune is then used to find and rescue and free Django's wife (Kerry Washington), who was separated from him when she was sold to a different master. That master turns out to be Calvin Candy (Leonardo diCaprio), a particularly unsavory character in a land of filthy, unsavory characters. This all occurs with an abundance of style and, well, little attention to historical fact.
And that's just fine. Few of us probably have much stomach for three hours of the gruesome truths of slavery, though Tarantino's portrayal of the South and its "institution" make any violence visited upon the region a welcome turn of events. Django Unchained is a comic book, a gruesome fairy tale populated with archetypical characters at all the key posts. But in typical Tarantino fashion, those key posts are written with flair and humor, and the protagonists cut an atypical swath through the landscape.
The story flags a bit in the middle, and doesn't quite seem to know how to end, or rather how to get to its obvious ending. But it eventually gets there, and it's mostly engaging and entertaining to watch. Oh, yeah, and there's lots of blood and comic-book violence if that's your thing.
Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx and Leo diCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson are all fun to watch, and the fantasy is as mostly delicious as it is unrealistic. Recommended if Tarantino's style is your thing.